Weighing the Economic Impact of an Event Center vs. Digital Campus

As the mayoral election draws nearer in the city of Niagara Falls, one can’t help but wonder what will happen if Mayor Robert Restaino gets re-elected.

Aside from Mayor Restaino dishing out small business grants to locals in exchange for votes and cutting ribbons at press events, Restaino’s focus is on one solitary thought: His legacy event center.

Proposed amenities at Restaino’s event center

Restaino hasn’t so much as addressed the ever-spiking violent crime rate, which is at an all time high.

He hasn’t addressed the poverty and homelessness which is also at an all time high.

Will his event center cost the taxpayers and voters more than we can afford if he succeeds? Yes.

Maybe Restaino’s $150 million event center will provide an estimated 10 full time jobs and 30-40 part time jobs 150 days per year. Other than the full time positions, which we can pretty much assure will fall under the “Bobby’s Family/Friend What Have You Done For Me Lately Plan,” nearly every job created will pay close to minimum wage.

The event center is not going to draw in more annual tourists due to the fact that it is a seasonal operation. The tourists will already be here to visit the natural wonder from May until early October.

If this were a boxing match, Restaino’s event center would be in one corner weighing in at a whopping $150+ million in public funding. In the opposite corner would be NFR’s Niagara Digital Campus, with a cost of $1.5 billion (paid for by private investors).

Mayor Robert Restaino pitching the Centennial Park project in October, 2021

The digital campus will provide an estimated 550 full time jobs with wages well above the average median income in our community (not to mention 5,000 – 6,000 union construction jobs).

As Frank Parlato acutely pointed out, the event center is costing taxpayers an enormous bill. The digital campus won’t cost us anything.

In a 2022 article of the Michigan Journal of Economics entitled “Cities Should Not Pay For New Stadiums,” author Rob Lucas states, “Funding new facilities and stadiums is not a wise investment on the part of the cities that host them, regardless of the misleading claims of job creation and economic stimulation.”

Lucas goes on to say, “Funding towards education and infrastructure offers better ways for cities to spend their money as those improve the life and job prospects of their citizens more.”

The very fact that Mayor Robert Restaino has not been transparent about the costs of his event center should signal all sorts of red flags for Niagara Falls voters. Since we are funding this project, aren’t we entitled to know how much it will cost us?

The Sports Facilities Companies is an organization which has “guided projects in over 2,000 communities nationwide and overseen $10 billion in developed projects. Through our managed venues in the SF Network, we host more than 25 million visits annually and drive $200 million in overnight hotel stays annually.”

One of SF’s venues

According to their website, there are pros and cons to public funding and private funding for an event center. After reviewing the pros and cons for both, it’s clear that the only pros for public funding include something that Mayor Restaino hasn’t secured for his project: Grants and a bank loan. The only thing we know for sure about Restaino’s plan for funding is that he is eyeing up Community Development Block Grant money which is earmarked for infrastructure in low income neighborhoods.

On the other hand, the digital campus is already fully funded by private investors. No tax dollars spent. It will in fact be a financial boom for Niagara Falls in terms of millions of property/sales tax dollars, plus the impact of the aforementioned salaries.

Digital campus rendering

In an article entitled “Publicly financed stadiums: Boon or boondoggle?” Stephen Hammy of the Albuquerque Journal had this to say: “It’s not difficult to find academic studies that are skeptical of the economic impact of public financing for stadiums. A 2016 study from The Brookings Institution concluded that ‘academic studies consistently find no discernible positive relationship between sports facility construction and local economic development, income growth, or job creation.’ A 2001 study from the Council for Urban Economic Development said “recent research suggests that cities have not benefited economically from the boom in professional stadium and arena construction.”

The mayoral election is likely to be another low voter turnout, unless people wake up and take matters into their own hands. If enough people decide to show up at the polls and outvote Restaino, we could save future generations from a major tax increase. Otherwise, those few people who support Restaino because they fear for their union contracts… will be deciding our fate for us.

I for one am voting against the event center, and the tyrannical sociopath Robert Restaino.

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